Quick scout: Why KU's toughness will be tested against West Virginia

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By Jesse Newell jnewell@kcstar.com

Before every KU men’s basketball game, The Star’s Jesse Newell previews the Jayhawks’ upcoming opponent with a scouting report and prediction.

Saturday's game: No. 9 Kansas vs. No. 18 West Virginia, 5 p.m., Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.

TV: ESPN

Opponent’s record: 24-9

KenPom (Ken Pomeroy) Ranking: 11

Point spread: KU by 1.

All statistics from KenPom.com, Hoop-Math.com and Synergy Sports Technology. KenPom stats also only include Division I competition.

3 Strengths

Defensive pressure: KU will play its fourth straight game against a team with this strength. The Mountaineers rank second nationally in defensive turnover percentage and eighth in steal rate.

Second-chance points: West Virginia ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage while grabbing the exact same percentage of its misses in both conference and non-conference play.

Rim protection: The Mountaineers — led by Sagaba Konate — are eighth nationally in block rate and 12th in shooting percentage defense on shots at the rim.

3 Weaknesses

Fouls ... both ends: West Virginia was last in Big 12 play in both offensive and defensive free-throw rate, and those numbers famously include a game at Allen Fieldhouse where the Jayhawks outshot the Mountaineers, 35-2, at the line.

Shot selection: The Mountaineers attempt a high number of mid-range jumpers, posting the 86th-highest percentage of those shots nationally.

Defensive rebounding: Though West Virginia is great on the offensive glass, it ranks 246th nationally in D-board percentage.

3 Players to Watch

6-foot-2 guard Jevon Cater (No. 2)

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Plus: Voted first-team All-Big 12 by AP and coaches

Plus: Ranks second in KenPom's All-Big 12 player of the year ranking

Plus: Strong three-point shooter

Plus: Ranks eighth nationally in steal rate

Plus: Good passer

Minus: Below-average shooter at rim

Minus: Can struggle to get out to three-point shooters defensively

6-foot-8 forward Sagaba Konate (No. 50)

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Plus: Leads nation in block rate

Plus: Strong rebounder on both ends

Plus: Good finisher at the rim

Plus: Above-average free-throw shooter

Minus: Struggles as a half-court post defender

Minus: Not much of a passer; has only eight assists in 20 combined Big 12 games

6-foot-3 guard Daxter Miles (No. 4)

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Plus: Had 22 points against KU in teams' last matchup

Plus: Above-average finisher at the rim

Plus: Gets to line decent amount and is good free-throw shooter

Plus: Team's second-best passer behind Carter

Minus: Below-average three-point shooter

Minus: Like Carter, he can struggle defensively to get out to perimeter shooters

Prediction

West Virginia had a chance to beat KU twice this season before failing to hold second-half double-digit leads ... twice.

The Mountaineers definitely have a formula for beating the Jayhawks, even if they haven't been able to maintain that playing style and intensity for 40 minutes yet.

For KU, this is a tough one. With a limited rotation — and without injured center Udoka Azubuike — the Jayhawks will have to grind through the third game of a back-to-back-to-back against an opponent with a pressuring style and deep bench.

KU will likely need a great game from Devonté Graham to win, and though he's previously been great in Big 12 Tournament games, he hasn't played up to his own standard so far this week. That could obviously change Saturday, but it's still asking a lot of a guy who already has been pushed harder than any player in the Bill Self era.

The Jayhawks certainly know how to grind, and they always seems to win more than their fair share of close games.

This time, though, I like the Mountaineers' chances of playing well late with a deeper rotation and fresher legs.

West Virginia 84, Kansas 80

Jesse’s pick to cover spread: West Virginia

Hawk to Rock

West Virginia will allow open threes — especially in transition — and one player who won't be afraid to fire up those types of shots is Svi Mykhailiuk. Expect a high volume of threes from him, which also means he should easily eclipse his previous high of 13 points in this Big 12 Tournament.

Last game prediction: Kansas 69, Kansas State 66 (Actual: KU 83-67)

2017-18 record vs. spread: 16-16

Last four seasons’ record vs. spread: 74-59-3


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